by AMANDA WINTERS
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Border Patrol on April 26 on behalf of three Clallam County residents.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, claims the Border Patrol on the Olympic Peninsula conducts traffic stops without legal justification, creating a climate of fear and anxiety.
“The residents in this suit are all U.S. citizens who worry that they could be stopped and questioned without reason any time they drive or are passengers in cars,” Sarah Dunne, ACLU Washington legal director, said. “We’re asking the court to put in place safeguards to stop the Border Patrol’s unlawful and unfair practices.”
The three plaintiffs named in the suit are Jose Sanchez of Forks; Ishmael Ramos Contreras of Forks; and Ernest Grimes of Neah Bay. All three say they have experienced unwarranted stops and interrogations in a variety of settings while going about their daily lives.
The suit would have the court require Border Patrol agents prepare documentation recording the basis of their suspicion that justifies each stop.
“People are being stopped based solely on their appearance and ethnicity,” NWIRP Legal Director Matt Adams said. “This is unlawful and contrary to American values. No one in a car should be stopped and interrogated by government agents unless the law enforcement officer has a legal basis to do so.”
In response to the lawsuit, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Richard Sinks provided the following statement:
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion. In determining whether individuals are admissible into the United States, CBP utilizes specific facts and follows the Department of Justice’s ‘Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.’”
The Border Patrol presence on the Olympic Peninsula has been the subject of controversy, especially in 2008 when agents conducted traffic checkpoints throughout the area. A group called Stop the Checkpoints formed to protest the practice.
In 2011, an agent stationed out of Port Angeles testified before a congressional panel in Washington, D.C., there was little for the approximately 40 Border Patrol agents, up from 24 in 2009, to do on the peninsula.
Christian Sanchez told the panel he and other agents drove around “wasting gasoline” and taxpayer money for 10 hours a day, going stir-crazy from boredom.
Speaking before the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce shortly after Sanchez’s statements, Jose Romero, then-supervisor of the Port Angeles station, said there is “no reason (for agents) to be bored up here.”
The Border Patrol currently is in the final stages of a $5.7 million remodel of the former Eagles Lodge in Port Angeles to house new headquarters.
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